How to Deal with Children Thumb Sucking

sucking thumbAt birth, a baby will reflexively suck any object placed in its mouth; this is the sucking reflex responsible for breastfeeding but this reflex disappears at about 4 months of age. ultrasound scans have revealed that thumb sucking can start before birth, as early as 15 weeks from conception. You might wonder how to deal with children thumb sucking.

As far as babies are concerned, sucking is the most natural thing because it serves as their own entertainment and it soothes and comforts their ruffled feathers (at times). At baby stage, its ok but what happens when ‘baby’ doesn’t seem to be growing off the thumb? Usually a child who is in the 2- to 4-year range will start to develop other coping skills beyond thumb or finger sucking like language development but in some kids, thumb sucking or finger sucking is harder to kick which could lead to consequences for their growing mouths.

Sucking puts pressure on the sides of the upper jaw and the soft tissue on the roof of a child’s mouth. As a result, the upper jaw can narrow, causing the teeth to not meet properly from the top to the bottom; it can also cause speech problems, like a lisp that may need to be corrected in therapy. The long-term effects can cause a child to bite to one side of their mouth, called a cross-bite. A “thumb hole” in the roof of the mouth, which results from sucking, can cause the teeth in the back of the mouth to take on the brunt of chewing. This causes an imbalance across the teeth and affects the structure of the mouth and jaw as they are growing with the child.

Lots of people have their different correction methods. The most popular which is placing a bitter-tasting liquid on the nail (not directly on the finger), putting on a plaster OR wearing gloves on the finger.

Jenn Berman, PhD (a family psychologist in Beverly Hills, Calif. 9) suggests ways to stop your pre-schooler from thumb sucking.

9 Ways to stop your pre-schooler from thumb sucking

  1. DO try to limit the time that your child sucks his thumb to his bedroom or in the house, not in public, Berman says. Explain to him that this is a bed activity, during nap time and at night.
  2. Do Not turn it into a confrontation. “Don’t tell your child, ‘You cannot suck your thumb anymore,'” Anderson says. “Try to recognize him and praise him when he’s not sucking his thumb, instead of criticizing when he is.”
  3. DO talk to your child about her thumb sucking or finger sucking. “Help your child understand that when she is ready to stop, you will be there to help,” Berman says. “She will eventually come to you and tell you, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to suck my thumb anymore,’ because you’ve empowered her to get there.”
  4. Do Not prohibit your child if he tries to suck his thumb or fingers after being hurt or injured. “He needs to be in his comfort zone, and by not letting him go there you’re only traumatizing him more,” Berman says.
  5. DO practice self-awareness with your child. “When your child is sucking his thumb, ask him, ‘Do you know you are sucking your thumb now,'” Hayes says. “If he says no, help him recognize that, and find another way to soothe if he needs it, like a blanket or stuffed animal.”
  6. Do Not  use the nasty-tasting stuff that is marketed to stop thumb sucking and finger sucking. “It’s just cruel,” Berman says. “It’s pulling the rug out from under your child and that’s not fair.”
  7. DO come up with creative ways to help them understand that they are growing up and one day won’t suck their thumbs anymore. “Ask your child, ‘Do you think Bob the Builder sucks his thumb?'” Hayes says. “Then they’ll think about, and start to process whether they want to be sucking their thumbs anymore.”
  8. Do Not try a glove or a mitten on the hand as a quick-fix to thumb or finger sucking. “This will just frustrate them and cause more anxiety,” Anderson says. “Likely, they’re old enough to just take it off, and as a result, they’ll just want to suck more.”
  9. DO remember that a child will grow out of the need for thumb sucking or finger sucking when he’s good and ready. “While parents may not like it, it’s best left alone,” Berman says. “Kids will eventually give it up.”

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